What does the Kherson counterattack portend?
Very different versions of the fighting around the port city of Kherson in southern Ukraine are coming from Kyiv and Moscow. The reports cannot be independently verified. Commentators nevertheless see a turning point in the war.
Attacking from a position of weakness
Novaya Gazeta Europa explains the Ukrainian strategy:
“On the one hand this attack already began a long time ago, because Russian troops have been repeatedly forced to surrender their trenches to Ukrainian reconnaissance teams. But on the other hand it has not even started yet, because so far there have been no tank attacks or victorious columns of Ukrainian armoured vehicles advancing with blazing cannons. Because Ukraine simply doesn't have the equipment. ... So the Ukrainian advance was planned with this vulnerability in mind. ... The 25,000-strong Russian forces on the right bank of the Dnieper is not being definitively cut off, but ground down. A barrage of shells and missiles is raining down on their positions, while Ukrainian partisans are operating directly in Kherson.”
Moscow has no good options left
The Frankfurter Rundschau explains what the recapture of Kherson would mean:
“Without Kherson, Russia would lose control over the water supply for Crimea. Without Kherson, there would be no continuous land connection from Luhansk to Sevastopol. Without Kherson, a Russian attack on Odessa, which is still in Ukrainian hands, would also be difficult. ... What can Putin do to avoid a fiasco? Undertake a hopeless escalation that will also have dangerous repercussions for Russia, for example using nuclear or chemical weapons? Or quickly announce a unilateral ceasefire in the vague hope that it will be interpreted as a sign of strength? In reality, Putin has run out of good options.”
A new phase of the war
With its counter-offensive, the government in Kyiv wants to send a signal of strength both at home and abroad, The Economist notes:
“Russia has been tightening its grip in Kherson province, introducing a Russian curriculum in schools, offering Russian passports to residents and preparing a sham referendum to pave the way for annexation of the territory. Ukraine is keen to disrupt that process. It is also eager to demonstrate - both to its Western partners, who are providing most of its arms and ammunition, and to the Ukrainian public - that the war is winnable; that Russia can, in fact, be pushed out. The coming days and weeks will be a crucial test of that proposition.”
Putin's downward spiral
In symbolic terms, the Ukrainian counterattack on Kherson can be seen as a direct attack on Moscow, De Standaard writes:
“The inflated idea of a Greater Russia now seems to be turning even more on Putin himself. Perhaps he was hoping that this idea of an empire would give the country a burst of energy. But an empire that suffers defeats and loses tens of thousands of soldiers creates above all a cocktail of frustration, apathy and opposition. In such a defeatist atmosphere it won't be so easy for Putin to announce a major mobilisation and turn his country's numerical superiority into a grand victory. What seems more likely is that pent-up frustrations will lead to major internal tensions that Putin will barely be able to control.”